It was far too close for comfort, but in the end the taste of victory couldn't have been sweeter. The University of Calgary Dinos women's hockey team participated in an epic encounter for the ages at the Olympic Oval, upsetting the two-time defending Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference champions, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans, in dramatic fashion with a narrow 3-2 shootout victory Sat., Oct. 27.
The Dinos lost a tight, penalty-filled battle Fri. night at SAIT 3-2, igniting their motivation. The Trojans and Dinos matched strides all game long and were tied 2-2 at the end of regulation. A five-minute overtime solved nothing, leaving the game to be decided by a shootout, a new feature for the ACAC. Both teams picked three initial shooters but it took six rounds before the Dinos were finally able to put away their opponents in their first-ever shootout.
"I was impressed with the team this weekend," said fourth-year forward Beth Nerland, the veteran leader of the team. "We were focused and we bounced back. All of our hard work has been paying off."
If the Dinos took any lessons out of their 1-1 weekend split versus the Trojans, most important was the team's exceptional versatility. The lady hockeysaurs, who played two defence-first games versus Red Deer College last weekend, pulled a complete hockey-mentality-180 and focused on their offensive abilities to match those of the aggressive, run-and-gun Trojans. The result was impressive as the Dinos beat SAIT at their own specialty, generating more shots and scoring chances on the night.
The offensive approach to the game coming from both teams began in the first period and didn't let up all night. SAIT's game plan to plant forwards high in the neutral zone and await breakout passes--or cherry picking, as it's unaffectionately referred to--became very apparent early on, as they found themselves the beneficiaries of odd-man rushes. The Dinos soon adapted to the Trojan way of hockey and took advantage of it, pressuring the unaided SAIT defenders down low and forcing costly turnovers that resulted in prime scoring chances. SAIT was soon left scrambling in the period, seeing them outshot 15-5, their only saving grace coming from the stellar play of fifth-year goaltender and former Dino Natalie Gerstmar. Surprisingly, both teams left the opening frame tied 0-0, with the best chance at a goal coming from a SAIT shot deflected in with a high stick and that was immediately called off by the referee, with only 1:14 remaining in the period.
The Dinos capitalized on their good fortune late in the first and used it to their advantage to start the second. Following a turnover by the Trojans at the U of C blueline, Dinos defender Ali Webb surged forward and emerged from a sea of bodies with the puck, spearheading a 3-on-2 towards the SAIT zone. Webb went with it, firing a slapper from the left wing, beating Gerstmar for a 1-0 lead. SAIT didn't let the goal slow them down, bouncing back to take full control of play, including a two-on-none that was denied by U of C netminder Katie Urness the very next shift. Not long afterwards, Urness stoned SAIT forward Tonya Faasse on a breakaway, with Faasse kicking the puck into the net on the rebound. Urness pled her case, the on-ice officials deliberated and the goal was waved off.
SAIT was rattled by their second disallowed goal of the game and suffered a complete mental breakdown in their own zone a minute later, as Nerland received a pass in front of the Trojans net with no opposing defender within five feet of her. Nerland carefully picked her target and fired home a perfect wrister to give the Dinos a 2-0 lead 7:42.
"I had all the time in the world and took it," commented Nerland, whose relentless hard work earned her Dinos player of the game.
The Dinos collapsed under the weight of all their momentum, as they spent most of the latter half of the period on the penalty kill, eventually allowing SAIT to score a power play marker to make it 2-1. Penalty trouble continued to hurt the Dinos as the Trojans started the third period on the man-advantage and capitalized again. Forward Jaime Teichman took a slick pass through the slot and converted it into a one-timer shot to tie up the game 2-2, her second goal of the night.
With the game tied up and only 19 minutes of regulation left to play, both teams sacrificed all to land that go-ahead goal, creating a barn-burner of a third period. Great scoring chances came fast and furious, but Urness and Gerstmar stood on their heads to guide their teams into sudden death. The situation looked dire as SAIT was handed a 4-on-3 power play 33 seconds into overtime, but Urness came up huge once again and the Dinos survived the penalty kill. The hockeysaurs spent the final minute of overtime peppering the Trojan's net with shots, but Gerstmar was a wall, stopping the onslaught and setting the stage for the illustrious shootout.
Webb, the first of three shooters for the Dinos, deked Gerstmar and put home a perfect backhand, but Faasse tied it up for the Trojans on the next shot. With the score still tied in the fifth round, Teichman made a shot at Urness but rang the puck off the crossbar, thwarting her opportunity to continue her heroic streak for her team. Urness bounced back by robbing Faasse in the next round.
"The shootout was an interesting way to finish the game," said Urness. "It was fun and added a lot more excitement."
With Urness' save a chance at winning the game was given to Webb, the leading scorer for the Dinos, her third shot of the shootout. She made it count, fooling Gerstmar with the same backhand move as before, winning the shootout and capping off an exciting victory over the defending champs.
"I tried to zone everything else out," said Webb about her game-winning shot. "I picked my spot and stuck with it."
The 3-3 Dinos' schedule doesn't get any easier after SAIT, as their next opponent is the 4-1 Mount Royal College Cougars. The Cougars came from behind to eliminate the Dinos in the first round of the playoffs last season and are currently tied for first in the ACAC. The Dinos will be looking for a couple of wins next weekend to exact some sweet payback and enter their reading days with a solid winning record under their belts.